I believe everyone likes music.

Everyone listens to some kind of music, whether it be pop music (western or local), R&B, rock, electronic, blues, folk, country, band, classical, world, jazz… Or you simply listen to some good music regardless of what genre the music is – the most important element in music is that you like it. That’s it. It is not other people’s choice but YOUR own choice.

The same should go for music learning, or more specifically here, piano playing. You should play the piano only when you want it. And then you would probably practice because you want to get better at the piano.

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What is the first thing students usually say when they come in? (I am sure all of you piano teachers have this experience once in a while or too many a times.)  They say, “I didn’t practice (much) last week.” or similar version of this line. Now, what is your response and what would you say to them? You might be like this, “no, no again!”, either say in silently inside or voice this out loud to your students. Trust me, I get that “frustration” sometimes, I understand that completely.

I also understand why students don’t practice (enough) sometimes. And it’s not because they are lazy – it can be but I usually give them the benefit of the doubt. I like to treat people innocent before “charged” guilty (ok, it’s not like that serious like a crime, but you get what I mean).

Depending on the situation would I ask them why. They would tell me there has been a lot of “homework/work/test/exam/activities/weddings/social functions/business trips/projects/meetings”. I get it, I really do. But I would also stress to them it is of utmost importance that they keep their regular practice sessions in albeit less frequent or shorter than desirable. Let’s say you want your students to practice 1 hour every day, would you think it’s plausible for the lifestyle they have? Would you rather set a more realistic goal for them to follow and actually keep up with, for example, 30 minutes for 4-5 days a week? Or 20 minutes for 3-4 days a week? Depending on the level and age and time of each student?

I usually negotiate with them, especially when they are adult students who have a very busy work life. I say, “ok, well, I understand that you are pretty busy, but let’s try this, try to log in 15 minutes for 3 days first, use the timer on your phone, set it to 15 minutes and just sit down and go with it. Let me know how that goes in our next lesson.” Usually they would do more that those 3 15-minute sessions if they really want to improve their playing.

Of course, there are times when a student really has no time whatsoever that week to do any practice at all. Then what do you as a teacher do? You just have to be patience sometimes. Sometimes when we push the students too hard on their learning and practice it might get an opposite effect that they might not even want to continue learning! We all want to progress, we all do, whether our role is teacher or parent or student. But there is a life we are making right here right now. I think being considerate – I use the word “compassion” – for the student we truly care for is important. There might a lesson that might not be as productive as we want it to be, and that’s ok. If the student turns around, looks back at his/her own progress and says “oh maybe I should work harder”, then wonderful, let’s do it. Certainly the teacher always has to be there to remind the student of his/her practice and encourage him/her to learn more/better. I believe it’s always two-way street (or even three in case with the parent for younger students): both the teacher and student put in effort and work together. Then the student’s learning will definitely blossom.

I find more than often though, it’s that instead of the students having not done any practice at all, it’s rather they are afraid they didn’t get the practice done as well as the teacher want them to have. So nowadays when I hear the line “sorry I didn’t practice much”, I just smile and gesture them sit down and tell them to start playing right away. “I shall be the judge of it.” Most of them do much better than they thought they would.

Giving students more precise pointers and specific directions as to how to make an effective and efficient practice session is also a great way to guide them to not be afraid of practice and get more done on their own. I shall write more about this which I find a lot of students and teachers are not too familiar with this concept.

You all have a blessed weekend of music teaching and learning,

Teresa Wong

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